Voters to decide fate of Taser ban proposal

The ban will make Tasers illegal for law enforcement and residents.
Name tags for People for a Taser-Free Columbia hang from a toolbox. The group handed out the tags to generate support for an ordinance that, if approved, will ban Tasers.

In November, voters will decide whether to ban the use of Tasers or any other conductive electrical device within the city limits of Columbia.

An ordinance to amend chapter 16 of the city code to add a new section regarding the use of CEDs was defeated unanimously at the Columbia City Council meeting last week. However, a second ordinance to hold a special vote for the ban of the devices was approved.

Ken Green spoke on behalf of the Taser-Free Initiative and argued Tasers are an excessive use of force that can result in injuries and death. Green also appealed to the fiscal side of council members citing millions of dollars of litigation as a result of law enforcement use of CEDs.

"Currently when an officer pulls a Taser they are to warn: 'Taser! Taser! Taser!' to the City Council and to the public," Green said. "The Taser warning we should hear is: 'Lawsuit! Lawsuit! Lawsuit!'"

Former council member Karl Skala, whose daughter is a Columbia policewoman, spoke in opposition to the ordinance.

"I submitted to voluntary 'tasing,'" he said. "I will not kid you, it hurts but I would much rather get 'tased' than be beaten with a baton."

One of the common themes that arose from the discussion was adequate training for officers in the correct use of Tasers and non-violent solutions. Columbia Police Chief Ken Burton said since taking office he has increased training and more specifically training in crisis intervention.

"(Tasers) are not designed to try to catch somebody (who is running away)," Burton said. "It's designed as a defense mechanism."

He also said policy changes have been implemented to better communicate the appropriate situations as to when and how a Taser should be used.

CPD has posted statistics regarding the use of Tasers in Columbia on their website. The data reports that there have been no injuries as a result of the use of CEDs, which have been deployed 12 times in the last six months.

While the debate is heated regarding law enforcement, personal protection has been given little attention. If passed the amendment would also ban private usage of CEDs. This would include stun guns and other self-defense items based on electrical shock.

Columbia store Target Masters sells a variety of self-defense products. Operations manager Barry Mckenzie said the ban wouldn't affect college students' choices in self-defense much.

"We sell more pepper spray to (college students) and their parents, than anything else," he said.

At the council meeting, Columbia resident Bryan Vanderhoof said banning Tasers would violate the Second Amendment.

MU Law Professor Carl Esbeck said the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the Second Amendment acknowledges the right to possess a handgun at home for defense. This right is also extended to weapons in common use, but does not include "dangerous and unusual weapons."

The MU Police Department doesn't use CEDs, MUPD Capt. Scott Richardson said. If the ban is passed it wouldn't have jurisdiction on campus, but MUPD doesn't have any plans to use Tasers regardless.

Holly Hanover, Graduate Assistant with Relationship and Sexual Violence Prevention Center said she wasn't aware of many students using the devices as a means of protection.

"I do not see the ban affecting students greatly if they do not currently use Tasers as a form of self protection," Hanover said in an e-mail. "The ban may cause more students to take a self-defense course, which I greatly encourage."

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